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Panorama Ephemera

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Panorama Ephemera

Published 2004

PANORAMA EPHEMERA (2004, 89:35 min., color and black and white) is a collage of sequences drawn from a wide variety of ephemeral (industrial, advertising, educational and amateur) films, touring the conflicted landscapes of twentieth-century America. The films' often-skewed visions construct an American history filled with horror and hope, unreeling in familiar and unexpected ways.

PANORAMA EPHEMERA focuses on familiar and mythical activities and images in America (1626-1978). Many creatures and substances that we hardly notice because we feel so used to them take center stage, including pigs, corn, water, telephones, fire, and rice. At first resembling a compilation, it soon reveals itself as a journey through the American landscape over time, and the story begins to emerge between the sequences.

The film consists of 64 self-contained film sequences ranging from 5 seconds to 4 minutes in length arranged into a narrative. Unlike many films made using archival footage, it's primarily a combination of sequences rather than a collage of individual shots.

PANORAMA EPHEMERA is populated by American children, animals, farmers, industrial workers, superheroes, pioneers heading West, crash test dummies, and many others.

PANORAMA EPHEMERA is released under a Creative Commons
"Attribution-NonCommercial" license, and may be freely shown, copied, or distributed according to the terms of this license (

NEW: If anyone wants to do a serious remix of this movie, here's a copy of my Final Cut Pro project (less the movie files, which you'll have to load yourself):

BitTorrent download here (thanks, Simon!):

Run time 89:35
Producer Rick Prelinger
Audio/Visual sound, B&W/color
Contact Information Rick Prelinger (


Produced and directed by Rick Prelinger
Actors: None


Reviewer: johnwbyrd - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - March 26, 2015
Subject: Wonderful
What a wonderful video. So full of hope and fear. It feels like a love letter from a generation. Thank you so much, Prelinger Archives, for putting it together. I love it very much.
Reviewer: barticle - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 29, 2013
Subject: Message
Why does everything need to have a message? This is just slices of reality in American life. I am baffled by Ed Jr's remark about propaganda. Propaganda for or against what? Just watch the movie, forget opinions. Five stars for great collage work.
Reviewer: The_Emperor_Of_Television - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - May 22, 2013
Subject: Interesting....
If there's a message, I missed it, but the clips are interesting. I'll certainly check out more of the films excerpted. Although I will say the 1970s era clip is out-of-place among the other clips.
Reviewer: Ed Jr - favorite - September 6, 2010
Subject: Tripe
This is nothing but a propaganda piece. I quit early on.
Reviewer: WeCallThisFlying - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - August 19, 2010
Subject: Torrent
Sorry, I don't like spamming either, but I'm trying to drive traffic to my new site. I have posted a torrent of the 3.9 GB version here:
Reviewer: migre - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - September 25, 2009
Subject: Essential to any archive. 3.7GB practically HD
Get the big version.
Even at 3.7GB you will thank yourself for it
because the quality of most of these scenes is
as close to "mint" as possible.
A lot of great scenes in this movie really
look like they were played
"right out of the box" as no
scratches are seen and the picture
is indescribably clear + vivid.

692MB DivX version does'nt have anywhere
near the clarity of the 3.7GB

You can FF past the
slaughterhouse scenes
in the beginning
cause they're gross.
Reviewer: Eva Vikstrom - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 26, 2007
Subject: The Collection Used by the Collector
I'm not sure that this film makes foreigners like me understand America better, but I'm quite sure that it will be increasingly valuable, because the collector himself gives hints to how films in this great collection might be used as sources to American self-knowledge.
Reviewer: TadFromPoland - favoritefavoritefavorite - June 8, 2007
Subject: Copyright owners vs. the other people
brewster (April 9, 2005 good review in the NYtimes) has incited me to read the CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK "In Snippets, an America That Ducked and Covered" by MANOHLA DARGIS. There appear also the words "overly restrictive federal copyright law." The film source "[class society emerges] Experimentally Produced 'Social Problem' in Rats. Investigator: O.H. Mowrer. 1939" (00:04:17-00:05:07 and 01:26:00) seems to be the suitable introduction into this problem. If each author of each film absent so far from Internet Archive were No. 3, would members of Internet Archive be No. 1 and No. 2, i.e. "complete parasites"? If persons reviewing for Internet Archive were inspired here to write their reviews, would those reviews be the inspiration for new films? Should we therefore discuss about "class society" or about the division of labor? Taking the film source "[partners for nine lives] Private Life of a Cat. Directors: Alexander Hammid & Maya Deren. 1947" (01:25:14-01:25:41 and 01:29:06) into account, should all of us be in this problem partners for one and only one life, absolutely not "workers" vs. "parasites"? :-)
Reviewer: FromAztlan - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 21, 2006
Subject: Breathtaking
. . . in its scope.
There is a thread here and it is the assembly-like quality of American life and the uncertainty that some Americans live with every day.
Discussions are serious. People are pensive, thoughtful. There is a sense of brooding and at times a pretense of mysticism about people, land and technology.
It's a jumble of thought and faces and random philosophies.
A truly great film about ... life. At times bland and emotionless and at times naive and innocent.
The people who populate this film were looking to Joe Dimaggio long before Simon & Garfunkel asked that monumental question.
Reviewer: b11761500s - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - February 2, 2006
Very good compilation of historical vignettes from (primarily) the 1930 - 1950 decades. Well worth the time to view.
Reviewer: dancestoblue - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - December 29, 2005
Subject: What a great time, what a great flick
So much fun. We Americans are such a strange people, and we were such a strange people, and many of the wishes and/or fantasies of 'right behavior' of this strange people are laid out here, sewn together into a garment that surely does fit, a warm garment of laughter and pathos.

Where in the world did they find all these documenteries to get all these great clips from?

Who in the world laid them out, clip after clip, a montage of humor, unintentional comedy bits turned into comedy by this arrangement.

I love movies, most especially independent movies, I don't like Hollywood, I don't need exploding helicopters, the hero just jumping ahead of the explosion, landing in the arms of a silicone-breasted idiot phrases her lines, parsing them out as she thinks of her mansion and her newest article in Ladies Home Journal or The Star or wherever, her silicone breasts heaving, her fat-injected lips squirmed into a flower of love, compassion, sexuality, foolishness. If your taste is like mine, maybe you too will like this flick.

I loved it.
Reviewer: someguy2 - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - November 2, 2005
Subject: Wonderful clips
I love these old propaganda clips. They really shed light on what one should look for in modern subliminal messages. They put a lot of effort into engineering our perceptions with embarrassingly obvious ploys back then, so what must they be doing today? ('the Power of Nightmares', perhaps)
Then again, conspiracy theorists will have fun looking for the REAL agenda whose subtlety is burried under these obvious ploys..
Not to spoil the 'plot' here:
The clip 'You should clean up your yard and paint your house just in case theres a nuclear war.'
Was this a public service to minimize firestorms, or public perception that nukes are survivable and 'falling debris' should be confused with fallout? Or maybe that was the commie's message disguised as our government lying about nukes? Or maybe everyone was just dumb as a bag of hammers?
Fun stuff.

Or watch the seated guy when the authority figure says 'court-martial'.
Automatically bowing his head in shame to the mere mention of authority, as of course any decent person should.

Oh, yea.. review.. Its good! Watch it!
Reviewer: Tomas Pavlovich - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - August 4, 2005
Subject: Loved it.
I live very far from the country of my birth (Bushlandia). The one great thing about the US of A is its wacky sense of humour, no holds barred, nothing sacred. I found this film to be refreshing and loved listening to the English language once more. I wuz born in '42 and now have a permanent memory on CD of how things used to be. Thanks for the archive.
Reviewer: saraphin - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 30, 2005
Subject: A fantastic representation of ephemera
This is one of my favorite downloads on the whole site. I beleive it's one of the best representations of why ephemeral films are so compelling. Every clip that's shown, I want to see the entire original (and so I download it).

I'm a huge fan of these films regardsless, and I do my best to disseminate them. I'd love to do something to preserve these films; can I volunteer in any way?
Reviewer: video-performance-film-artist - favoritefavoritefavorite - May 17, 2005
Subject: Pretty Good, but needs work
I think the film works fairly well, but it is not really pushed to where it needs to be. The editing needs quite a bit of tightening, and the sound I find problematic. There is no development of the sound other that the diagetic sound of the original film footage. Mr. Prelinger, I suggest downloading pro tools free and really manipulating the sound in a multitrack setting. There is no play with the spatiality of sound in how it relates to the footage. The film certainly picks up as it progresses towards the end. The most clever point of the film is one of the last shots when the women talks about the love of the land. This is really poignant, and makes the viewer understand these lost promises that Americana has failed to complete. In terms of the great sound parts, I really liked when the noise of the sound track obscured the image. I think that this noise could be really played with, to highlight these points where information becomes either obsolete, or outrageous. The degeneration of the film picture is also something that isn't quite played with and is an unavoidable aspect of the footage found on the archive. It doesn't pay to ignore it- it becomes fundamental to really acknowledge t. TO be even more nitpicky, I was really dissappointed with the title sequence and credit reel. Part of the mystification of these films is the magical promise they insinuate with their whole packaging. The titling could be really integral to establishing this false package you are hinting at. Final Cut should include Livetype which allowsyou to really punch with dazzling graphics. Also, the quality can be altered to resemble the old film degeneration. I think with a little work, the film could make five stars for me- but things must be pushed. Edits need to make sense. And rmember, critical theorists always argue film and video is 2/3 sound. These pictures mean nothing without their sounds.
Reviewer: brewster - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 9, 2005
Subject: good review in the NYtimes
go rick prelinger! this is a first for the Internet Archive-- a film that has been launched on the archive and at festivals makes a NYtimes review.
Reviewer: Jah Gussi - favorite - April 4, 2005
Subject: What a mess
What is this just a load of clips, it's not a movie and what's triton here for.
Reviewer: outofmysky - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - December 4, 2004
Subject: What has his-story become?
In many ways this film applies to modern life in no different a way that it is portrayed in these exact pieces of footage. We still are the indutrialzed, mechanized, production line population that we are no more than a product of. In a way, the old footage from decades ago beocomes more effective than a film similarly shot in footage from today, as it shows where the circumstances of the present have come from, and one cannot come away from this film feeling things have gotten any better or more sane!

"Make sure your home is protected from Nuclear blast by properly painting it with Du-pont!!"

RUBBISH!!! "Big business started a new offensi ve" and now they have every moving body in its grasp.

Te whole film is up to everyone's own unique interpretation, but I see it as a painful reminder that not much has changed.

if your interested, check out, Adbusters Magazine, and read John Zerzan for more against the grain media!
Reviewer: xTom - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - November 27, 2004
Subject: Sentimental?
Many of these films date from the '40s and '50s. This time is often sentimentally thought of as a simpler and safer period. After watching this film, I have to wonder if this sentimental view is any more "realistic" than the clips presented in this film. Could it be that these clips and many others like them, have become the sentimental "reality"?

It makes one realize just how much media shapes what we consider "reality". Just as '40s and '50s media could be considered an overly simplistic and positive representation of the world, could the media of today be considered an overly pessimistic representation of the world? Will people, in 50 years time, watch clips from our time and say "Whoa, things weren't that bad"?

I recommend this film, especially to anyone who needs to know how to prepare their house for the effects of an atomic heat flash.

My thanks to Mr Prelinger for this beautiful and thought provoking film.
Reviewer: tambora - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - August 26, 2004
Subject: Great... so far... and now just great all around!
I got about half an hour into this film, repeatedly shaking my head at how wonderful it was turning out to be, when the sound and video got horribly out of sync. I downloaded the MPEG1, and that's what happened. I suppose I could try redownloading it, but I think I might have a better solution.

To Mr. Prelinger, who I'm certain would appreciate a larger audience for his fine film, would you create a DivX version of Panorama Ephemera? This seems to be the codec of choice for today's youth, myself included, and if that copy were exactly 700 MB in size, that would be even better, because that way it can fit on a CD-R.

I hate to say it, but practically every illegal rip of a film ever created is in one or two chunks of 700MB so that it'll fit on a CD for easy transportation. The rule of thumb says that if it's under two hours, it only needs one CD, so a version of this film encoded as a 700MB DivX would be the most preferable copy, at least for me.

Maybe I'm the only one, but if there are others, we would really appreciate a nice shiny DivX copy of your film. Thanks very much.


I just finished watching Panorama Ephemera - regrettably, the 256k mpeg4, but nevertheless - and this is a great film. The DivX copy would still be appreciated from any willing encoder.

Anyway, these films are so arranged as to inspire many associations and interpretations, some conflicting, within the mind of the viewer. Some cuts are humorous, some are profound, some are puzzling, but within those cuts, those boundaries, is contained just as much meaning as in the film excerpts themselves. This film seeks to remind us of the forgotten, perhaps even the never-known, and to glorify the ordinary, even the sub-ordinary. As such, you've likely never seen a film quite like it.

It is important to note that not all of the films excerpted in Panorama Ephemera are available on the Archive. Disappointingly absent, among others, are Unconscious Motivation, Fears of Children, They Grow Up So Fast, and Agriculture USA. Even if you're not into the whole free-association-open-interpretation-experimental-film thing, watch Panorama Ephemera to see films available absolutely nowhere else. And even if these unique films don't interest you, watch Panorama Ephemera to see some of the surreal and surprising wonders that you've missed on the Archive.

In closing, just watch this film. I don't care why, but make sure you don't miss it. And to Mr. Prelinger, I'd love to see more of some of those films not already on the Archive. Well done.


I'm not a fan of deleting something when it's out of date, but instead adding a revision. I guess that's why I like the Archive so much. Anyway, Panorama Ephemera is now available as a DivX, much to my delight, and I have really nothing else to say. Other than, of course, now YOU have no excuse for not watching this film!
Reviewer: jose luis salazar (chile) - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - August 16, 2004
Subject: have they heard the sign yet?
terriffic film as the two main caracters are shown their lives, i ask miself the question have they been awake yet? seems that this society and by that i mean not only the american society (i had the chance to live with for ten years)choose to stay in the sleeping side. it's easier and safer.
Reviewer: Marysz - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - June 1, 2004
Subject: Ephemeral America
This film opens with an ordinary couple Don and Clare, who have been hypnotized but don't know it. An off-screen announcer tells them they've been hypnotized and that they've been given a signal that would put them back into a trance, but neither remembers it. "You're awake, aren't you?" asks the announcer. It's a good question. The film sequences that follow suggest that its America that's been hypnotized into the banal ordinariness that Don and Claire embody. Does America know the signal? Some of the film juxtapositions that follow are particularly effective and cheery piece about following the "jostling throngs" to see America's pastimes of baseball and football, cuts to footage of police officers attacking union demonstrators carrying the American flag. Industrial workers watch a factory being torn down and next we see a group of people gathered reverently around World Champion Typist Stella Pajunis as she types 185 words a minute on an IBM Electric Typewriter. The utmost in human capability and the tops in typewriter efficiency that the she represented would displace the Master Hands of America's factories. The workplace was becoming feminized. We see the consequences of women in the workforce - children left alone who need to be rescued by Safety Woman, a zaftig seventies super-mom who saves children from setting their house on fire or playing with Dad's gun. There are two characters in this film who epitomize American characters now gone - Mrs. Dawson, the high school principal who comes in on her day off to run the polling place at her school and the tough-talking union official in "Deadline for Action" who cynically says, "Big Business is not giving up. It's starting a new offensive . . . Where are we going? With this Congress re-elected we'll have a Company Country, with Company Towns, Company Stores and Company discrimination. We'll have unemployment at home and ultimately WAR abroad." Where are people like him now that we need them? In the end Don and Clare come out of their trance (sort of), "And as these impressions came to consciousness, you could recognize and feel right about them, couldn't you?" the off-screen voice asks, "I feel just like I always did!" answers Don. Maybe that's the problem.
Reviewer: cashel - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - May 25, 2004
Subject: download it
This film is a magnificient introduction to the wonderful world of ephemral films.It is a huge collection of sequences in films from Mr Prelinger,s archive. As such ,it can be likened to receiving a gift of the finest caviar, and thus , thank you. I have already seen it twice and frequently stopped viewing just to think about what I had seen and heard. A brief review, but am sure that the many admirers will add very much more in subsequent reviews.
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